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MLS eager to show off Atlanta success story at All-Star Game

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ATLANTA (AP) The MLS All-Star Game is more than the league showing off its best players against Italian powerhouse Juventus.

It’s a chance to flaunt one of its biggest success stories.

The A-T-L.

Atlanta United has shattered just about every MLS attendance record since joining the league in 2017 , which made it a natural choice to host the All-Star Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Another mark could fall in Wednesday night’s match, expected to lure upwards of 70,000 fans to this technological marvel of a stadium.

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“That’s why the game is here,” said United defender Michael Parkhurst, one of five players from league-leading Atlanta picked for the MLS team. “It’s to showcase the city itself, the stadium, the atmosphere that we create here. It’s special.”

Indeed, there’s nothing unusual about drawing such a mammoth soccer crowd in Atlanta.

In its debut season, United shattered the league record by averaging 48,200 per game – more than doubling all but three other teams in MLS. The club is projected to go even higher this season, averaging nearly 52,000 through its first dozen home matches.

The top five individual game crowds in MLS history have all been in Atlanta, which has eclipsed 70,000 for every regular-season match in which the upper deck has been open . The target to beat for an All-Star Game is 70,728, which was the record turnout for the 2010 match at Houston’s NFL stadium.

If the weather forecast holds – there was a strong chance of thunderstorms – the camera lens-resembling roof will be closed to ensure a comfortable setting for both the players and the big crowd.

Too bad.

The complex structure only recently began operating properly, allowing it to open or close in less than 10 minutes .

Every other aspect of the $1.5 billion stadium has drawn rave reviews, setting it up to be one of the leading venues for the 2026 World Cup that will be largely hosted by the United States. The winning bid, which also includes Mexico and Canada, calls for six games to be held in Atlanta – including a semifinal.

The stadium has already developed quite a reputation in MLS, with its chanting, flag-waving fans showing off their passion while giving United a huge home-field edge.

“It’s surprising,” New York Red Bulls forward Bradley Wright-Phillips said before a workout Tuesday at the stadium. “I heard a lot of talk before they came into the league about how it was going to be. I wasn’t sure, but playing here and watching them on TV, the support these players have is amazing.”

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Since the current All-Star Game format was adopted in 2005, pitting a team of MLS stars against a prominent club from Europe, the American-based league holds a 7-6 edge.

Of course, this game means a lot more to MLS than it does to the opponent.

Juventus, which is riding a streak of seven straight titles in Serie A, is merely tuning up for a league season than begins in less than two weeks. The Italian club already played two exhibitions in the U.S. as part of the International Champions Cup – beating Germany’s Bayern Munich and Portugal’s Benfica – and has one more friendly Saturday against Real Madrid before returning to Europe.

Juventus didn’t bring along five-time FIFA Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo, acquired from Real Madrid a few weeks ago in a record transfer deal for a player older than 30.

Still recovering from the World Cup, Ronaldo remained in Italy to train, along with new teammates Gonzalo Higuain, Juan Cuadrado, Mario Mandzukic and Paulo Dybala.

Manager Massimiliano Allegri is confident that his squad is ready to make another title run in Serie A.

“There isn’t much to do,” he said through a translator. “We have the defenders. We have the midfielders. It’s just a matter of deciding who are the two or three in front who are basically going to put the ball in the goal.”

The MLS team also will be missing one of its top players – LA Galaxy star Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who ranks second in the league with 15 goals.

The 36-year-old Swede chose to not to make the cross-country trip to Atlanta after playing three league matches over a nine-day span, saying he was more focused on leading his streaking team to the playoffs. Under league rules, he’ll also have to skip the Galaxy’s next match against Colorado on Saturday.

Commissioner Don Garber told reporters he was “disappointed” that Ibrahimovic would skip “the most important special event that the league has.”

Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paul%20newberry

For more AP soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/MLSsoccer

Lyon winger Terrier stretchered off after collapsing

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A scary moment gripped Lyon’s home match against Toulouse as winger Martin Terrier was stretchered off after collapsing off the ball in the 26th minute.

Television cameras caught Terrier slowly bend forward then collapse backwards, lying motionless as his Lyon teammates immediately reacted with concern. After appearing unconscious for several seconds as teammates turned him on his side, the 22-year-old then woke violently, causing more concern.

Eventually, Terrier was conscious as he was loaded onto a stretcher and taken off the field, with his close friend Moussa Dembele visibly emotional on the pitch. Play resumed and Lyon took the lead just three minutes later through Maxwel Cornet.

The club released a statement on Terrier’s status at halftime, delivering good news that he was awake and recovering under close supervision. Lyon confirmed that Terrier had suffered a Vasovagal syncope, which results in sudden loss of blood pressure and heart rate which leads to fainting. A Vasovagal syncope often occurs from a trigger or stimuli – often the sight of blood or other extreme emotional distress – which causes the cranial nerve to react. It’s unclear what caused Terrier to faint, but he was shown breathing heavily in the immediate aftermath.

Karl Toko Ekambi came on for Terrier, making his club debut after joining last week on loan from Villareal.

A Lille youth product, Terrier joined Lyon from Strasbourg in the summer of 2018 and has been a major component of their recent success. He has made 16 Ligue 1 appearances this season, and while he hasn’t scored yet in league play, he has four goals in eight appearances across all other competitions, including a goal in four Champions League appearances.

Man City skates past 10-man Fulham in FA Cup

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Just six minutes into Fulham’s trip to the Etihad, the game was essentially over. Tim Ream upper-body tackled Gabriel Jesus who was through on goal, the American international was sent off for denying a goalscoring opportunity, and Ilkay Gundogan bagged the penalty.

A goal down and a man down, that was all she wrote for the Whites. The rest was a formality.

[ LIVE: Follow all the FA Cup scores here ]

All told, Manchester City held nearly 70% possession and completed a 4-0 victory to advance to the FA Cup fifth round.

Bernardo Silva scored the second before the 20-minute mark with a brilliant turn and shoot into the bottom-right corner, and while Man City slept through the next stage of the match, they awoke again on the hour mark as Raheem Sterling hit the post. The hosts poured men forward and Jesus nearly had City’s third as he was fed through on goal, but new Fulham signing Terence Knogolo made a last-gasp tackle that saved a goal.

Jesus would get his goal, a 72nd minute effort after David Silva forced a turnover deep in the Fulham defensive third. Raheem Sterling’s cross found the head of Jesus, and his effort survived a tight VAR check for offside. He got a second immediately after, following up a Marek Rodak save with another header to make it 4-0.

Man City advanced to the fifth round of the FA Cup with the win, becoming the fifth Premier League team confirmed to have reached the next stage, with another five possible to advance either later today, tomorrow, or on replays. The draw for the next round will be held on Monday.

Nainggolan pegs back Inter in draw with Cagliari

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Inter’s challenge of Juventus for the Scudetto this season continues to absorb punches, each one slightly more damaging than the last.

The most recent blow came on Sunday as Inter suffered its third straight draw, pegged back by Cagliari as Radja Nainggolan delivered a 78th minute equalizer in a 1-1 draw.

Lautaro Martinez put Inter in front in the first half, with a pinpoint header buried off new signing Ashley Young‘s cross just before the half-hour mark. Unfortunately, as has been the story of late, they were unable to tack on the all-important second. The best chance came via Romelu Lukaku who dazzled the San Siro crowd by dodging and weaving through midfield and charging forward towards net, but was ultimately let down as he dragged the big chance wide with 10 minutes remaining. Young also seemed to have won a penalty at one point in the second half, but none was given and VAR did not intervene.

Nainggolan was the man to keep Cagliari in the hunt for a Champions League place, delivering a 78th minute shot that deflected off the heel of Inter defender Alessandro Bastoni and tucked perfectly inside the bottom-left corner. The deflection was a stroke of luck, but not all that harsh as Cagliari finished the match with a whopping 60% possession on the road at the second-placed Inter side.

To make matters worse, Martinez – who has been so massively important to Inter this entire season – lost his head deep in stoppage time, sent off for dissent after arguing a non-call. That leaves him suspended for the next league match against Udinese.

The lone point leaves Inter three points back of Juventus, who plays later Sunday against Napoli. A victory would carry the Old Lady six full points atop the table, with Inter having drawn against Atalanta and Lecce previously. The draw also leaves Inter vulnerable to Lazio below them, who sits three points back with two games in hand. A January slump is not uncommon for Inter, having won more than one league game just once in the last seven seasons.

There are still other competitions for Inter to focus on, however, with a Coppa Italia quarterfinal game against Fiorentia this week plus the Europa League knockout stage which begins in late February with a matchup against Russian side Ludogorets.

Atletico Madrid held scoreless by lowly Leganes

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Diego Simeone was once again flummoxed up front as Atletico Madrid was toothless in a 0-0 draw with lowly Leganes, leaving them seven points behind leaders Barcelona in the La Liga table, and leaving them looking for answers up front as well.

Joao Felix and Thomas Partey were bright, but Alvaro Morata was quieted by a well organized Leganes side as Atletico failed to produce any type of solid chance on net until Saul and Ivan Saponjic each missed decent efforts in the final minutes of play, including the latter’s which came in the 93rd minute and left the hosts with just the lone point. The meek result against La Liga’s 19th-placed team is the most recent setback in a season of spotty performances.

All season long, scoring goals has been an enormous problem for Atleti. They haven’t scored more than two goals in any game since a 3-2 win over Eibar way back on September 1, and have been blanked in eight league matches this year, including two in a row now. They have scored 22 goals this season in La Liga play, a paltry total only matched by eighth-placed Atletic Bilbao and those in 14th and below.

Felix has drowned in abuse from fans over the last month given the team’s struggles, but in all honesty he was the team’s best attacker at the Wanda Metropolitano on Sunday. The young Portuguese forward worked both flanks and earned four fouls, including two in the attacking third. Still, he had little support and was unable to get by a packed-in Leganes defense on his own. Partey was good as well, producing a quality shift in his defensive midfield role but unable to chip in moving forward.

In contrast, Morata was a complete no-show. Producing just two total shots in the 90-minute performance, Morata has now failed to score in three straight league games and owns just two in his last eight. Simeone’s attack was completely devoid of answers, resorting to futily pummeling the Leganes box with crosses, finding a teammate with just six of their 23 attempts. They won just two of seven aerial duels in the Leganes area, and over the 90 minutes produced an expected goal total of 1.02 with 14 shots, including nearly half of that xG value (0.45) on the aforementioned two late chances coming in the final three minutes of play.

With a Champions League matchup against Liverpool on the horizon, Simeone has plenty to sort out as Atletico Madrid looks to challenge both domestically and in Europe.